A recent blog provided managerial best practices for shutting down a business, ceasing a product or service offering, or terminating a project. Two of the recommended best practices addressed knowledge retention and transition. Knowledge retention and transition may also be necessary for organizational and personnel changes.

Knowledge retention rarely receives the attention it deserves. Times of significant change always threaten performance. Regarding knowledge retention efforts, team members often doubt the value of the effort and are anxious to move onto more important activities. To further investigate the best practices, let's explore the experience of an organization currently undertaking a shut down.

Cogswell Cogs has decided to suspend production of a marginally unprofitable product, the Comet-86 Model Cog. Market conditions have depressed demand for the Comet-86 and recent regulatory changes have increased production costs. As cog demand is cyclical and Cogswell has a strong PAC that will likely influence future legislation, Cogswell expects to reimplement Comet-86 production in 18-36 months.

Mike Saturn is has been Comet-86 Product Manager for several years and has been tasked with moth-balling the product. Since he is changing job roles and his team is being reassigned to other roles across the company, it is unlikely many will be involved when the Comet-86 is pulled out of mothballs. Therefore, Mike and his team must address the needs of two major constituencies before their reassignments are complete next month.

Existing customers must still obtain service on their cogs. Mike's product team has been responsible for level 2 and level 3 support. Since the Flyer-82 Model Cog most closely resembles the Comet-86, the Flyer-82 product team will take responsibility for support. Additionally, the eventual relaunch team must have access to the expertise and learnings of Mike's team.

Since shut down is being managed as a formal project, knowledge retention and transition activities are included in the project schedule under the following areas:

  • Knowledge Assessment
  • Document Retention
  • Memo Creation, Review, & Approval
  • Knowledge Transition

The first exercise for Mike's team is knowledge assessment, which defines the detail tasks for the other three areas of work. The team reviews existing marketing materials, training materials, system and product manuals, policy and procedure documents, reports, and any other materials that may benefit the customer support or relaunch teams. The team also identifies areas of expertise that must be retained and transitioned, and assigns key subject-matter experts to complete memos summarizing their knowledge. Critical stakeholders, those that will be involved in servicing and those most likely to be involved in relaunch are identified, are identified and time is reserved to share the team's expertise with those stakeholders.

Potential document viewers are the primary consideration as documents are retained in Cogswell's document repository. The existing folder structure is organized based on the current structure of the existing product team, but that folder structure may not make the most sense when the relaunch team is created and begins reviewing materials, so some reorganization is necessary. Administration responsibility for the archived documents is given to the team also responsible for administration of the Flyer-86 documents.

The leadership team and a few key experts are investing significant time writing memos for use by the relaunch team. Mike is authoring an overall memo, which will be reviewed and approved by Mr. Cogswell, the executive sponsor of the shut down project. Other memos are produced for Product Marketing, Sales, Data & Reporting, Operations, and Projects. Key support groups – including IT, Accounting, Training, Legal & Compliance, and Supply Chain Management – are engaged to write memos providing information unique to the Comet-86 Model Cog. Memos are kept short and provide only rudimentary information. Each memo describes the state of the business at shut down, explains why major decisions were made, and explores lessons learned and opportunities for improvement upon relaunch. Each memo also provides links to more in-depth materials in the document repository.

Once the memos and key files are stored in the archive, key individuals must have the opportunity to obtain the benefit of the team's expertise before they disperse across the organization. The team facilitates knowledge transition meetings with the Flyer-82 team and with leaders most likely to be involved in relaunch. Meetings review the memos and address questions. In some cases, the team discovers the need to supplement memos with additional insight.

This is hard work and team members are often unenthusiastic to work on knowledge retention, thinking the materials may never be used. However, the team follows the process and produces quality work because Mr. Cogswell and his executive leadership team have communicated the importance of knowledge retention and transition to the entire organization. And, the team is provided the support, tools, resources, and time to assure it is successful. Mike stays engaged throughout the process, and provides leadership and advice.

What appeared to the team to be a tedious project is actually rewarding and motivating. Upon wrapping up, individuals are refreshed and eager to start their new roles. The opportunity to review decisions, lessons, and opportunities and to review their successes makes this a positive experience. Effective management and execution of the knowledge retention and transition exercise improves continued operations, as well as future efforts related to the discontinued operation.